Criticism has been raised in the past about open exhibitions and whether they genuinely offer artists a launching pad or worthwhile stage for their work – or whether they are merely a cynical exercise in raising money. As we reach the final stages of organising this year’s New Light Prize Exhibition, it seems a good time to pause and consider the issue.

It’s five months since we launched the Call for Entries – many more months since we first discussed how the exhibition should run. This time round we decided to change the criteria to include all Northern artists, not just younger, emerging ones. Yes, this would hopefully mean more entries, but it also reflected a genuine desire to show the best contemporary art being produced by artists from the region in the three venues we’d secured: The Bowes Museum, The Mercer Gallery and Panter & Hall in London. With the final tally of almost 1700 artworks submitted – a massive increase on previous prizes – and including submissions from a Royal Academician, established artists and emerging artists, we definitely feel that we achieved this aim. Even more pleasing is the fact that the shortlist reflects all three groups, suggesting that everyone who entered had an equal chance of being selected.

Anne Desmet – Brooklyn Bridge, New Day - 24x17cm

Jo Taylor - Viper - 153x112cmChris Thomas - Two Reflections - 122x122cm

A selection from the shortlist: Anne Desmet RA – Brooklyn Bridge: New Day; Chris Thomas – Two Reflections; Jo Taylor – Viper. A detail from Hugh Miller’s Liverpool can be seen heading up this blog.

Which still leaves the issue of the submission fee. We did try and keep this as affordable as possible and certainly lower than many other opens. The costs of mounting an exhibition are high. This year particularly so, as we designed and launched an online entry and payment system to (hopefully) make it easier for artists. Not a cheap option but one, despite some inevitable teething problems, which seemed to work well. We also decided to redesign our website so anyone thinking of entering would find it simpler to access the information they needed about New Light and the Prize Exhibition. We are now in the throes of producing Private View invitations and a catalogue featuring all of the shortlisted artists, both of which incur design, print and distribution costs. As a small charity, none of this would be possible without charging a fee.

Obviously, the shortlisted artists will see more immediate benefit from these activities than other less successful entrants, but our mission throughout the exhibition and in the accompanying publicity is to increase the profile of Northern art as a whole, thereby benefiting all Northern artists in the long run. All those who entered also know that their work has been seen by the judges. As Laura Gascoigne, art critic and one of this year’s judges, commented:

“True to its name, New Light is a revelation. None of the open exhibitions I’ve judged in the past has tapped into such a pool of undiscovered talent. There are always a few established artists whose work one recognises, but nearly all the artists here were new to me and there were several I was astonished – and rather ashamed – not to have come across. I hope this exposure will make them more visible in the future. The sheer variety of work, at all levels, was heartening – it bolstered my faith in the vigour of British painting.”

We hope that some of those who entered but who did not make the shortlist this time round, will still come and visit the exhibition to see which artworks did – and to let us know their thoughts.




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